Some recipients were regulars whom Baker and Page make a point of visiting every Saturday on their 3-to-11 p.m. drives. On a typical trip, Baker said, they see 20 to 25 people. Other Project H.O.M.E. employees make the same rounds on other days of the week.
Baker said that about half the people they visit suffer from mental illnesses and half from drug addiction. The first man she spoke to Saturday gripped an empty vodka bottle while they talked. But Page added, "These are individuals like you and I, and there are a lot of people who are just a paycheck away from being homeless."
They parked their van at the now-closed William Penn High School building, where they both deftly climbed through a hole in the chain-link fence to approach the empty building. Four beds were made on the top step of the school, littered with a small assortment of personal belongings - a coffeemaker box, a broom, a boom box, a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Zaraya Alvarez, who was lying sleepily in the heat, gladly accepted a bottle of water.
Baker urged all of the people they encountered on their ride to stop by her office during the week, when she helps clients obtain housing.
She warmly greeted one man whom she had recently helped secure a bed at St. Columba, a dormitory operated by Project H.O.M.E. where residents receive assistance finding permanent housing and mental-health care.
He said he had left St. Columba because he had been asked to pay a nominal fee for rent.
Page spoke up. A certified peer specialist for Project H.O.M.E., he is among a core of workers who are recovering from their own battles with mental illness and can now speak to others in similar straits.
"I was like that up in Norristown when I lived in the mental-health and drug and alcohol center," Page told the man. "I didn't want to pay. I didn't want a man taking my money. But it all worked out. You've got to bite the bullet."
Even in the sweltering heat, a few homeless people declined to take the water bottles. At the 29th and Market Street bridge, where Baker and Page have repeatedly visited a man named Ronald who declined to tell them his last name, they found him sitting under the bridge once more and were not surprised that he refused any assistance, even a cool drink.
But they insisted there is never a hopeless case.
"I can't let it get me down," Baker said, "because I know there is hope. I don't know when they're going to turn around, but I know they will." And for this day, at least, they might enjoy a cool drink.
Contact Julie Zauzmer at 215-854-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.